In our culture, the heart holds a prominent role. We give our heart credit for the things we feel, and why we feel them. We consider the heart to be the seat of love, compassion, friendship, and inspiration. We say we love others with ‘all our heart’, and when faced with tough decisions, ask ‘what is your heart telling you?’ Sadness and rejection are described as a ‘broken heart’, and when we lose interest, we can say it was just because our ‘heart wasn’t in it.’
With all this emphasis on the heart, what does the Bible have to say? What is the difference between an evil heart and a faithful heart? How can we tell if a heart is filled with evil or if we are just having a rough day? Fortunately, the Bible also gives us ways to examine our hearts and determine its condition.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9
According to this verse in Jeremiah, the default condition of our heart is not love, but deceit. While we tend to associate the heart with true, pure emotion, the Bible teaches that the heart without Christ is bound to dishonesty and evil. In an age where we hear words like ‘misinformation’ and ‘fake news’ on a daily basis, it is clear that our hearts are all too happy to not only create but readily accept things that may or may not be true. The deceit of an unrepentant heart will lead us to lie to ourselves, lie to others, and manipulate the truth in subtle little ways to get us what it is that we think we want.
Jeremiah says that our hearts are ‘beyond cure’, and outside of Christ, this is certainly accurate. When we find ourselves and others around us relying on raw emotion to support falsehoods, we can see the effects of an evil heart.
The Solution: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10
When we pray for God to cleanse our hearts from deceit, he is faithful to reveal our sin to us, forgive us, and renew our hearts. Nothing we can do will ‘clean up’ our hearts. All of humanity is fallen, sinful, and broken before God. Yet through the grace and mercy of Christ, our deceitful hearts can be refreshed, renewed, and made whole.
2. An Evil Heart Holds Thoughts That Are Sinful
“For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” – Mark 7:21-22
What do you think about all day? These words of Jesus assure us that an evil heart will generate evil thoughts. It is easy to think that we can somehow keep our evil thoughts ‘in check’. We justify these thoughts as being okay as long as we don’t act upon them. Yet Jesus says in Matthew 5:27-28 that secretly having a lustful thought is exactly the same as committing the act. Having a thought of greed is the same as stealing out of greed. God knows our thoughts and knows the depth of evil that we try to hide away where we think only we know. Sinful thoughts are a symptom of an evil heart.
The Solution: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8
In our sinful nature, our hearts will gravitate towards that which is evil. The more we think of evil, the more comfortable we become with it, until these evil thoughts become evil actions and a wicked lifestyle. We can’t stop every evil thought from entering our minds, but we can be aware of them and redirect to the things of God. Paul encourages believers to recalibrate our thoughts towards that which God has shown us to be beneficial and fulfilling, and by doing so bring our hearts in alignment with the heart of God.
3. An Evil Heart Denys God
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” – Romans 1:21
Increasingly, our culture is filled with hearts that question whether God even exists and if he does exist, whether he is good and worthy of praise. Even when faced with the plain truth of Scripture and the miracles of Creation, many still deny God’s very existence. This thinking is ‘futile,’ ‘dark,’ and is completely devoid of joy and meaning. Paul writes that this applies to those who ‘knew God’. This tells us that even when faced with the undeniable truth of God, an evil heart will continue to reject it. This evil heart creates pain and sorrow where there could be true joy.
The Solution: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23
How easy it can be for our hearts to be fooled into believing small lies about God, and eventually owning these lies as our own! Deceptions such as, ‘there are more than just one way to God’, ‘a loving God would never punish someone,’ or ‘all religions are the same,’ sound nice and accepting. Yet these subtle lies gradually turn our heart into one that denies God bit by bit until our relationship with him is impossible to find. This is why we must guard our hearts through prayer, discipleship, and time spent in His Word.
4. Evil Hearts Are Hardened
“But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.” – Exodus 8:15
Perhaps the most famous example of a hard heart is that of Pharaoh. When he had opportunities to admit that God was all-powerful, and that he would benefit from letting the people go, he repeatedly turned to stubborn refusal and instead chose to double down on making a bad situation worse. When people are uncaring and lacking in compassion, it can be said that their hearts are hardened. Refusing to see the plight of those around us who are poor, sick, or in need is a sure sign of a hard heart.
The Solution: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 36:26
When we trust in Christ, and allow him to claim our heart as his own, it is promised that he will replace that cold, hardened, evil heart with one that is made of flesh. One that feels empathy for others and sees hurting, lost people not as enemies to be destroyed, but as sinners to be shown the love of Christ. He alone can turn a stone heart to a loving godly heart.
5. Evil Hearts Act Differently Than They Speak
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” – Matthew 15:18
Sadly, evil hearts can be found among those who appear to be religious. Just like the Pharisees who failed to accept Jesus, there is no shortage of people who memorize Scripture, worship loudly, and then walk out of the Church and act just like any unbeliever. A person whose walk does not match up with their talk is certainly an indicator of an evil heart.
The Solution: “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” – Joel 2:13
In ancient times, there was a practice of ‘rending’ or tearing clothing as a sign of distress. Yet often this outward sign did not match inward repentance. Joel commands us to open our hearts before God, to ‘rend’ them before him by honestly confessing all of who we are with nothing to hide or keep from him. Outward signs of piety are useless when not prompted by an inward change and desire to give our heart 100% to God.
No Heart is Beyond the Love of Christ
“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” – 1 Thessalonians 3:13
An evil heart can be utterly destructive, resulting in pain on earth and separation from God in eternity. Yet the Bible offers a pure, clean, and blameless heart to those who turn to Christ and trust him fully. May we pray for ourselves and for those around us to leave behind the sinful evil heart, and accept the renewed heart that Christ offers those who accept him.